The son of a Central Intelligence Agency officer, Rick Ames joined the Agency in 1962 as a trainee and, after graduating from George Washington University, was posted to Ankara in 1969, accompanied by his wife. Five years later he returned to the United States and was posted to New York, where he participated in the 1978 defection of Arkadi Shevchenko, a Soviet diplomat attached to the United Nations. In 1981 he was posted to Mexico City, where he developed a relationship with one of his Colombian agents, Rosario Casas, whom he later married.
Upon his return to Langley and a transfer to counterintelligence duties, Ames experienced financial difficulties, and in April 1985 he approached a KGB officer with the offer to sell classified information for $50,000. At this initial meeting Ames named several agents who had been detected as double agents; Ames later rationalized his betrayal by claiming that no harm had been done, as they were being run by the Soviets anyway. However, at a second meeting, having received his initial payment, he had named Sergei Motorin, Valeri Martynov, and Boris Yuzhin, thus condemning the first pair to their eventual deaths. All three had been recruited as sources by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in San Francisco and Washington, D.C., and might have been in a position to compromise him. Soon afterward, Ames supplied a list of other CIA assets, including Dmitri Polyakov and maybe Oleg Gordievsky. Almost all were arrested, and most were executed. Other assets, such as GT/BACKBEND, GT/GLAZING, GT/TAME, and GT/VEST also appeared to have been compromised, and by the end of the year, five assets run by the Counter-intelligence Branch had been lost. By the end of the following year, another nine had been arrested.
In 1989 Ames was transferred to Rome, where he maintained contact with the KGB, helping to compromise a Bulgarian intelligence officer, GT/MOTORBOAT, but his relative inactivity insulated him against the mole hunt then under way at Langley following the losses suffered by the CIA’s Soviet/Eastern Europe Division. However, a further investigation concluded in October 1993 that he was the most likely culprit and, after his bank deposits had been scrutinized and linked to Ames’s declared meetings with Soviet personnel, he was placed under surveillance prior to his arrest in February 1994.
The mole hunt had been delayed by several distractions, including investigations conducted into two other likely candidates and a CIA officer denounced by his secretary for the suspicious acquisition of a gold Rolex. The delay in focusing on Ames had been exacerbated by the certainty he had never known of Adolf Tolkachev (later established to have been betrayed by Edward Lee Howard) and a belief that the culprit was a disgruntled retiree who had made a “single dump” before leaving the Agency. This theory had been supported by the view that if the mole were still in place, the KGB would never have jeopardized him by making so many arrests so obviously, thus pointing to a serious security breach. In addition, inquiries at the FBI revealed that up to 250 FBI employees knew the true identities of Martynov and Motorin.
Ames made a confession in return for a reduced sentence of five years’ imprisonment for his wife, and he was imprisoned for life without parole. Some of the analysts who examined the case and studied Ames’s interrogations suspected that he had not been solely responsible for the losses suffered by the American intelligence community during the nine years between 1985 and 1994, and seven years after his arrest, in February 2001, the FBI’s Robert Hanssen was charged with having engaged in espionage since 1979 and having betrayed some of the same individuals named by Ames. The damage assessment conducted by the CIA, with assistance from Ames, concluded that he had passed between 10,000 and 15,000 documents to the KGB but left unresolved whether he had betrayed Oleg Gordievsky and Sergei Bokhan. Both had been recalled to Moscow before Ames had made his first delivery to the KGB in April 1985.
Bokhan had been suspicious and had taken the opportunity to defect from Athens, whereas Gordievsky had been assured by his handlers that he was in no danger and had returned to Moscow.